X-Men Red 1: Discussion

by Spencer Irwin and Ryan Desaulniers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Spencer: What are the X-Men best known for? I’d honestly say that there’s two answers to this, because while thematically the X-Men are most often used to explore discrimination and social justice, in execution they’re just as well known for their unwieldy cast, soap opera dramatics, and byzantine continuity. I think what I like most about Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar’s debut issue of X-Men Red is how heavily it leans into that first aspect, while ignoring the latter almost entirely. There’s plenty of character within these pages, of course, but this is first-and-foremost a title with a mission and a message. Continue reading

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Hungry Ghosts 1: Discussion

By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Desaulniers

Hungry Ghosts 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

They found her body sprawled across the grave. Without realizing it, she had plunged the knife through her skirt and had pinned it to the ground. It was only the knife that held her. She had died of fright.

Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Drew: Like every kid who grew up in the ’90s, I’m intimately familiar with Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories books — the perfect camp fire/slumber party fodder. But “The Girl Who Stood on the Grave” (sometimes known as “The Dare”), whose punchline I spoiled above is the only one that ever actually scared me. Even as a kid, I never believed in ghosts, so stories of long-dead apparitions leaving their sweaters behind or whatever felt more like jokes than anything. But the thought of scaring oneself to death felt all too real when watching my friends get spooked by the other nonsense in the book. I doubt I knew who FDR was at that point, but even then I understood that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Which is to say, I’m far more interested in the telling of ghost stories than I am in the stories themselves. And I suspect we’re all a little that way — it’s why Tales from the Crypt had the Crypt Keeper and Are You Afraid of the Dark? had those terrible child actors — the ritual of telling scary stories is just as important as the scary stories themselves. It’s a notion that Hungry Ghosts taps into twofold, offering a framing story within a framing story, as a Crypt Keeper type tells us the story of people sitting around telling ghost stories. Continue reading

Days of Hate 1: Discussion

by Ryan Desaulniers and Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Fom ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Ryan D:  The Capulets and Montagues. The Hatfields and the McCoys. The Shiite and the Sunni. These famous rivalries span generations, with their common point being that the reason which the fighting began has long since ceased to matter. The conflict now revolves around the most recent slight or atrocity perpetrated by the other side. In the aptly named Days of Hate, writer Ales Kot and artist Danijel Zezelj bring us a speculative world where our current political divide is seen played out to one natural conclusion in which the catalyst has been lost in four long years of partisan turmoil and war. Continue reading

Silence is Golden in Black Panther 169

By Ryan Desaulniers

Black Panther 169

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

All comics are silent comics. This is an immutable fact due to their very nature as a static, visual medium. This makes it all the more impressive that artists can imbue a page with a bevvy of techniques which trick our beautiful brains into not only interpreting some onamonpaeatic words as sound, but even suggest the sound’s quality in a way that we, as readers, hardly notice as we go. Black Panther 169 takes away the sense of perceived sound and employs a level of visual storytelling which this title had not yet utilized, making for a gripping read, one focused on two characters, in opposition, in a high-stakes sprint to their objectives. Continue reading

Smooth Transitions in Kill Or Be Killed 15

By Ryan Desaulniers

Kill or be Killed 15

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Despite all of the guessing and theorizing which this title forces upon the audience in regards to the narrative, after fourteen issues of KOBK, it was safe to say that readers know at least a little about the world and its rules. We know there’s a haunted young man who lives in New York who spends time with his on-again/off-again girlfriend who also runs off to murder mob bosses in town. We’re used to some big swerves at the end of any given issue regarding the nature of the Beast that plagues Dylan by now, too. What caught me completely by surprise in issue fifteen, however, is the transition out of New York City, and how cleanly the creative team handled it. Continue reading

Rise of the Black Panther 1: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Desaulniers

Rise of the Black Panther 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

“Spinoff!” Is there any word more thrilling to the human soul?

Troy McClure, “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase”

Drew: That epigraph might seem a bit glib, but while I understand the criticisms spinoffs get for being uninspired or safe, I’d never dismiss a spinoff as a matter of course. Case in point: The Simpsons is technically a spinoff from The Tracey Ullman Show, but that didn’t stop it from becoming arguably the greatest sitcom of all time. And actually, the discrete nature of The Tracey Ullman Show might just have been part of what makes The Simpsons so successful — there isn’t the temptation to feature cameos from the original show, the way Frasier might with Cheers, for example. That is, The Simpsons could operate in its own world, untethered to the sensibilities of its origin. Unfortunately, despite the decades that separate The Rise of the Black Panther from its main series, it never really manages to form its own identity. Continue reading

Focus vs. Multiple Fronts in Black Panther 168

By Ryan Desaulniers

Black Panther 168

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box

Whether you’re writing an indie comic title or trying to pen the next billion-dollar Star Wars film, a great place to start is by asking, “What is the hardest thing for my characters to do?” True character, after all, is revealed through the most difficult decisions they’re forced to undertake. After a very interesting tangent in Black Panther 166 to meet the new Klaw, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates tries to pile on the challenges facing King T’Challa and the rest of his royal court of protagonists, but is it better to assault a character from all sides, or to offer one clear, powerful opposing force? Continue reading

The Narrative Meanders in The Wild Storm 10

by Ryan Desaulniers

The Wild Storm 10

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The opening panel of issue ten of The Wild Storm by Warren Ellis and artist Jon Davis-Hunt is a half-page shot showcasing a new table upon which coffee should not be be placed. Continue reading

Kill or be Killed 14: Discussion

By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Desaulniers

Kill or be Killed 14

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Anton Chekhov

Drew: I feel like we tend to talk about Chekhov’s Gun backwards: we often frame it as “a gun introduced in the first chapter must go off in the third,” but that “must” kind of scrambles the causality — guns don’t go off in narratives because they’ve been introduced; they’re introduced because they need to go off. If the gun doesn’t go off, it’s as irrelevant to the narrative as the rings of Saturn. It’s an essential concept for narrative efficiency, but my awareness of it undoubtedly influences my own understanding of what a story is. While a child may think of a story as “everything that happens to the characters between the beginning and the end” (I know I did), anyone familiar with Chekov’s Gun must recognize that a good story is, at the very least least, pared down to only the relevant events transpiring between the beginning and the end. It’s a notion that assures us that whatever we’re reading is important, which in turn provides some clues about what the narrative finds important. 14 issues in, one might think that we’d already have a great handle on what Kill or be Killed finds important, but this issue managed to surprise me with the details it chose to focus on. Continue reading

Influence Become Explicit in The Wild Storm 9

by Ryan Desaulniers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

One of the first things I do when I’m in a budding relationship, the second I have the opportunity, is to scrutinize my potential partner’s bookcase. Admit it: you’ve done this is as well. The idea is that we can glean something about someone’s character based upon the literature or media they consume because a good book, for example, informs a person’s worldview. Also, since art itself is inherently tied to other art, what we’ve seen or read changes the way we encounter or create art. In The Wild Storm 9, Chief Jackie King of IO reports to the big boss, Miles Craven, only to catch him reading a novel, and my brain has yet to stop whirring about what this choice of literature tells us about not only Miles, but writer Warren Ellis as well. Continue reading